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Address to Schools in Commemoration of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (IDADAIT)

June 27, 2017       Executive Office, Office of the President, Suva.

Students and young people of Fiji;and

My fellow Fijians.

I am deeply honoured to address you today as we commemorate the International Day Against Drugs and Illicit Trafficking. 

The United Nations dedicated this Day in 1987 to help save people from drug abuse. 

Fiji is no different from other countries around the world in our global collective effort to control and eradicate drugs and substance abuse. 

As we attempt to draw the attention of our young people to this important issue today, our Government, civil society organisations, and many other stakeholders including educational, religious bodies and communities are working tirelessly together to reduce the effects and impact of drugs on our society, on our families and on individuals.

As Fiji’s President and Head of State, I appeal to you to say NO to drugs and to stop taking drugs and related substances, if you have been experimenting with these.

Or, for those who have not started, I appeal to you not to start at all.

Let me share with you some important and worrying findings on drug abuse.

It has been noticed that the cycle of drug addiction usually starts from experimenting with smoking cigarettes and consuming alcohol. 

It then moves to the next stage of experimenting with other substances like sniffing glue, and ultimately with drugs. 

Before a person realizes it, he or she has become a drug addict. 

This is what we are trying to avoid in Fiji, especially for you our young people who will be the future leaders of our beloved Nation.

We want to work with you in our national effort to avoid or to give up drugs altogether.

You do not need to experiment with drugs, or with cigarettes and alcohol for that matter.

As a Nation, we are trying to eradicate the cultivation of marijuana. We are also discouraging young people from consuming alcohol or smoking cigarettes.

Smoking in particular is not only a steppingstone to experimenting with drugs, but it is also a serious health risk. 

Smoking causes 90-percent of deaths from lung cancer and a significant rate of deaths from heart disease and stroke.

The theme for this year’s International Day Against Drugs and Illicit Trafficking is:

“Our health, Our Life, Our responsibility” 

Na Tiko Bulabula e Noda i Tavi”

“Hamara swasth, Hamara Jiwan, Hamara Jimedaree”

This is an appropriate theme because it clearly reflects the concern and our national effort to encourage every student to look after your health. 

It also encourages parents and community leaders to work with all our children and young people to develop responsibility for their health, wellbeing, and their future.

We also want to include in our commemoration this year other issues like teenage pregnancy, violence against children, violence in schools, mental illness, suicide and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

At this juncture, I would like to share with you some statistics on Fiji for 2016: 

The National Substance Abuse Advisory Council last year reported 1,504 teenage pregnancies. 

Forty-eight pregnancies were below the age of 15 years while 1,456 were between 15 and 19 years.

These figures indicate that young people are either voluntary experimenting in sexual activity, or are very sadly, victims of abuse.

The Council further reported 272 school drug cases covering both secondary and primary schools.

It noted 3,279 cases of violence against boys and 2,849 cases of abuses against girls.

A significant number of incidents resulting in violence or abuse happened while the abuser was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The Council also reported an increase in violence in schools, which is now a real, present and worrying trend. 

Apart from the Council’s report, the Fiji School Health Survey in 2016, involving students aged 13-17 years, revealed more results that are shocking:

49.4% of students in the study drank alcohol before they reached 14 years;

57.6% of students in the study used drugs before they reached 14 years;

10.4% of male students in the study smoked marijuana one or more times;

18.7% of students in the study were sexually active;

48.6% of these students started having sexual relations before they reached 14 years;

15.4% of students in the study smoked Tobacco; while 

49.5% of students saw people smoking in their presence.

It was also reported that drug addiction led to mental illness.

Sadly, there were 102 suicide cases in 2016. Twenty-Four of the victims were children. 

I strongly believe it prudent that I share these statistics with you so that we could all be aware of the danger and harmful effects of drugs and alcohol abuse in our own communities, in schools and in our country.

I also wish to appeal to all the parents and community leaders, and to society as a whole, that we all need to bring a greater focus on appreciating and valuing life, as it is a precious gift that we cannot afford to waste. 

We need to inculcate and continuously promote the important principles and values such as love, respect, tolerance, and genuine care for our young people. 

Our beloved Nation will pay a high price if we lose these principle-centred values. 

Our young people should know and accept the fact that they should aspire to be good citizens in life, but it is equally important that they understand and also know how to deal with certain challenges like avoiding being victims of substance abuse.

To our young people, let me remind you that you have relatives, friends and colleagues around you who care and are willing to help you. Talking about the issues that are troubling you could ease your stress.

I also speak with you today as Fiji’s chief advocate and champion in our national campaign to eradicate Non-Communicable Diseases.

Cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and other substances are barriers and impediments to living a healthy, progressive and happy life. They instead, would inevitably cause mental disorder and NCD-related illnesses.

I encourage you students to fully enjoy and appreciate life and avoid smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

I also encourage all of you to eat fresh local foods, drink lots of clean water, exercise daily and rest well at night. 

Please remember that you are Almighty God’s gifts to your parents, your families and to our Nation.

Please listen to your parents and teachers who are there to help identify and nurture your God-given talents. 

Do not allow yourselves to be manipulated by others into following an unhealthy lifestyle, taking drugs, being violent and indulging in immoral behaviour.

You must make the right choice.

I urge you today to take ownership of your life and choose a happy and healthy lifestyle based on obedience, honesty, respect for your elders, industriousness and wellness. 

I wish to re-emphasise our Nation’s focus on providing you with holistic and quality education so that you can realise your dreams, aspirations and your full potential.

When you say No to drugs and substance abuse, you will be a blessing to your family, community and to our Nation.

To all the parents and community leaders, workplaces and faith-based organisations: Children learn from what they see. 

I implore us to be exemplary role models of wellness so that we may create a better Fiji that is void of drugs and substance abuse, and a Fiji that hopefully will have less NCD-related deaths.

My fellow Fijians, I call on all of us to reject drugs and substance abuse, and take greater responsibility for our lives, our health and our Nation’s destiny. 

Finally, on a separate but related note, I invite those of you who live in and around Suva to join me in a health-walk along the Suva foreshore tomorrow morning as Fiji celebrate our National Sports and Wellness Day.

Thank you for listening and May God Bless you all and Bless our beloved Fiji.